Linemen from Greeneville Light & Power System have been in Florida for almost two weeks and may be there a while longer to help restore power to areas ravaged by Hurricane Michael.
The 10 crewmen are now working in Sneads, Florida, a small town of about 2,000 people, after initially repairing poles and lines in the Tallahassee area.
When crews went to work in Sneads last Wednesday, the county where the town is located had 83 percent of customers without power. Crews were told that percentage had just fallen to 60 percent on Saturday, GLPS General Manager Bill Carroll told the utility’s board of directors during its regular meeting Monday.
The rural nature of the community means that when a line is repaired, it results in a small number of customers having service restored, he explained.
In Tallahassee, the linemen worked to repair lines that provided power to thousands of customers, Carroll said. However, when the crews fix a line in Sneads, it returns electricity to just five, 10 or 20 customers, he said.
“It is very rural, and there are lots of single-phase lines,” Carroll said. “They are working very hard. We are proud of all of them.”
Expressing the sentiment of the board, member Willie Anderson said, “I hope they realize they are heroes.”
Carroll responded that the Florida residents have been appreciative of the crews and their work, particularly in the small community.
The crews have shared that the residents in Sneads have stopped traffic to enable the trucks to enter the roadway, and have invited them to a fish fry.
The local linemen have worked with crewmen from Cleveland, Tennessee, in Sneads, he said. They worked with other power utility employees from Sevier County while in Tallahassee.
The crew is staying across the state line in Alabama and commuting back and forth to Sneads each day. A crew from GLPS contractor Davis Elliott has been providing assistance in Alabama but is now headed home, Carroll added.
Asked about supplies used in the repairs, he explained that those primarily come from the utility being assisted. While the lineman took some basic supplies on three trucks to Florida, typically not much is taken by those responding to an aid request, because the utility to be assisted may use different sized equipment.
Utility crews responding to assist a power company in a disaster area are paid by the power company seeking assistance.
“It does not cost our customers anything,” Carroll said. “It does not affect customer service. Having less crewmen available does put us a little behind in regular maintenance, but it does not affect customers.”
Four of the crewmen are starting toward home on Tuesday for family reasons while six will be staying to continue work in Sneads, Carroll said.
All of the linemen had volunteered to be among the crews to go to Florida after a request came through a mutual aid agreement, he said.
“We are blessed that all of them wanted to help out,” he said. “The mutual aid agreements are good for us. We hope people would help us if we needed it, and they have, such as after the tornadoes.”
In other business, Carroll reported that the utility continues to explore providing internet broadband services, but has not heard from the parities involved in providing feasibility studies.
Last month, the board voted to approve a second feasibility study by Sonepar/Irby. Carroll said he expects that he should have a report from that study in a few weeks.
Representatives from Nokia/Corning have also not submitted a contract proposal to the utility to conduct a second phase of its feasibility study. That phase would calculate more precise cost estimates for building a fiber optic network.
The board was told that an estimated $35 million would be needed to provide broadband high speed internet services to 14,400 customers inside Greeneville and Tusculum and the town’s urban growth boundary, a possible first phase of the project. To provide service to the entire county would be a $110 million expense with about $85 million of that to be financed.
Representatives of Nokia and Corning told the board that the estimates were on the high side.
To provide broadband services, which would deliver high speed internet service to customers, the utility would have to build a network of fiber optic cable.
Carroll said the power company wants to be cautious and thoroughly explore the options before any decision is made.
In addition to broadband, the utility is continuing to explore possible future changes for power suppliers, such as increased use of electric vehicles and managing demand.
Earlier this month, Carroll said he attended the Distributed Energy Conference in Colorado. While one speaker talked about the end of utility companies due to distributed energy sources, another speaker encouraged utilities to embrace changes such as distributed energy, he said.
A distributed energy system is an on-site generation system such as solar panels, wind turbines or fuel cells powered by natural gas. These systems are gaining popularity as customers, including business and industry, are looking for cleaner fuel sources.
While these energy systems may not be something GLPS has to address in the immediate future, it needs to be aware of them and open to how they could be involved if a customer decides to use a distributed energy source, because costs for these sources become more competitive with power companies, Carroll said.